FDA Warns Expectant Moms Against Ultrasounds

Life & Love | Gerren Keith Gaynor | 12/19/2014 | 10:00 AM EST

Federal agency sends out alert blast on the dangers of non-medical ultrasound and heartbeat monitors

Many expectant moms often parade ultrasound images of their developing fetus as badges of honor. You can often see them proudly posting them on their Facebook pages, and even carrying a copy in their purse to show off to everyone who will look.

But the Food and Drug Administration is warning parents-to-be to pump the breaks on the use of non-medical ultrasound and heart beat monitors, which are commonly used in shopping malls and used by untrained technicians. Despite previous warnings over the years by the FDA to not use such non-medical services--where ultrasound images are sometimes turned into fashionable items--many parents continue to do so.

The FDA alert points out that fetal ultrasound imaging provides real-time images of the fetus. Doppler fetal ultrasound heartbeat monitors are hand-held ultrasound devices that let you listen to the heartbeat of the fetus. But what many may not know is that both devices are prescription devices designed to be used by trained healthcare professionals, and are not intended for over-the-counter sale or use.


"Although there is a lack of evidence of any harm due to ultrasound imaging and heart beat monitors, prudent use of these devices by trained healthcare providers is important," says Shahram Vaezy, Ph.D., an FDA biomedical engineer. "Ultrasound can heat tissues slightly, and in some cases, it can also produce very small bubbles (cavitation) in some tissues."

The FDA says that ultrasound scans should only be used when there is a medical need, and not for recreational purposes. It should be based on a prescription, and performed by appropriately-trained operators.

“Fetal keepsake videos are controversial because there is no medical benefit gained from exposing the fetus to ultrasound. FDA is aware of several enterprises in the U.S. that are commercializing ultrasonic imaging by making fetal keepsake videos,” the FDA said. “In some cases, the ultrasound machine may be used for as long as an hour to get a video of the fetus.”

While FDA recognizes that fetal imaging can promote bonding between the parents and the unborn baby, such opportunities are routinely provided during prenatal care, the FDA says.

In creating fetal keepsake videos, there is no control on how long a single imaging session will last, how many sessions will take place, or whether the ultrasound systems will be operated properly.

“Proper use of ultrasound equipment pursuant to a prescription ensures that pregnant women will receive professional care that contributes to their health and to the health of their babies,” says FDA’s Vaezy.

(Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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